Mother of teen behind mall plot speaks out about dangers of online underworld
The mother of a teen found dead inside his home as police foiled a plan to commit mass murder at the Halifax Shopping Centre on Valentine’s Day 2015 is speaking out to warn parents about the dangers of the online underworld.
The courts called 19-year-old James Gamble a social outcast who was fascinated by death, morbidity, and mass murder, but to his parents, he was a loveable boy who grew into a troubled teen.
“I know in my heart who Jamie really was, I do, and I can’t explain what happened to him,” said his mother, Patty Cody, in an exclusive interview with CTV Atlantic.
Cody now draws comfort from Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, notoriously known as a Columbine shooter.
“So many questions and so many that I had, she had, and were answered in her book,” said Cody, whose son idolized Klebold.
According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, Gamble planned a massacre at the Halifax Shopping Centre, with the goal to kill as many people as possible.
His best friend, Randall Steven Shepherd, was sentenced in November to serve 10 years inprison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.
An American woman, Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, is scheduled to go on trial in May for her alleged involvement in the plot.
The plot was foiled on Feb 13, 2015 after police received an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip. Gamble killed himself as police tried to arrest him at his parents’ home in Timberlea, outside Halifax. Shepherd and Souvannarath were arrested at Halifax Stanfield International Airport when he tried to pick her up.
For nearly two years, Cody had hoped that her son was the person who called Crime Stoppers, thwarting the attack before killing himself, but as she sat in a Halifax courtroom last year, she learned that her son was, in fact, the mastermind.
“It was horrendous. It was horrendous,” she said.
Not only was her son behind the attack, Cody learned that he had planned to kill her too.
“I’ll just walk into her room while she’s sleeping and shoot her in the head,” said Gamble in a Facebook message, which was read in court.
Cody says she has since gained strength from God and is now turning her attention to warning other parents.
“I wish I had known then what I know now, but there was no way that I could have,” said Cody. “I didn’t know what to look for. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know what was out there.”
While Cody aims to raise awareness, the RCMP’s Technological Crime Unit is fighting the dark web daily. The RCMP created the unit about 17 years ago, but they’re seeing more crime related to the dark web, especially over the past three years.
“As it grows in popularity and use, many of our investigations are tending to lead to the dark web,” said forensic analyst Const. Todd Bromley, who scours cellphones, hard drives and other technology to help crack cases.
“We’re very concerned about anything of an illegal nature on the Internet.”
The dark web is an encrypted portion of the Internet where illegal products and services are for sale. In other words, you can’t just stumble upon it.
“Somebody in the house would have actively had to install software in order to get on the dark web,” said Bromley.
However, Gamble also shared suicidal thoughts and homicidal ideation on websites that can be easily accessed by anyone online, including Facebook, Tumblr and Reddit.
Still, his parents had no idea, and not because they didn’t ask.
“I was on his Facebook. He was on my Facebook. I didn’t see anything,” said Cody.
“He wasn’t outgoing. He was bullied. He didn’t fit in … it was like a perfect storm. I think it was just everything.”
Simon Sherry, a registered psychologist and professor at Dalhousie University, says personality traits do influence what people do and where they go online. Some are fuelled by narcissism and psychopathy, while others are simply trying to connect.
“We still have a fundamental need to belong and to feel connected, and when you feel alienated but you want connection, you go searching for that connection,” said Sherry.
Cody believes that’s what happened to her son, and she’s encouraging parents to be aware of what they’re children are doing online.
“It had to start somewhere. I don’t know. I don’t have the answers as to what came first,” said Cody. “You may think, ‘Oh, they’re online with their friends.’ I know he played games online, but there was the other part that we didn’t know about.”
The RCMP say parents should establish guidelines, talk to their children about what they’re surfing online, and face computers into a room so they can easily be observed.
Internet-monitoring devices released within the past year are another option.
“If the content is deemed of an inappropriate nature, the device will cut off the Internet stream and prevent them from viewing it,” explained Bromley.
Cody is adamant if it happened to her son, it can happen to anyone. While she doesn’t condone any of the activity in which her son was involved, she is trying to move forward.
“You can’t change it. We can’t change it for us … I’d just love to help someone else.”
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kayla Hounsell